Review: OWC Mercury Elite AL-Pro mini 500GB drive

Product Reviewed: OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro mini 500GB Quad Interface Storage Solution
Retail price: $139.99
Vendor: Other World Computing
Warranty: 3 years OWC warranty

A month and a half ago, Other World Computing (site sponsor) sent along a 500GB version of their OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Mini 500GB drive with Quad Interface (say that five times fast) for me to review. I’ve deliberately waited for a month before finalizing my thoughts on the drive, simply because I wanted to allow myself enough time to incorporate the drive into my regular workflow.

First Look

OWC Mercury Elite AL-Pro with OWC Slim ExpressCard to eSATA adapter

The Elite AL-Pro Mini (heretofore referred to as “Mini”) is 5.5 inches long, 3.8 inches wide, and 1.1 inches tall. Its portable form factor makes it ideal for carrying your data on-the-go. The enclosure itself is made of brushed aluminum. On the front of the enclosure is a wire-mesh plate, similar to the design on a Mac Pro. A blue LED indicator, which is visible through the front plate, shows the drive’s activity when it’s on.

On the rear of the drive are 2 Firewire 800 ports, two SATA ports, a USB 2.0 mini port, and a DC in port (for auxiliary power). There is also a switch to turn the Mini on or off. Inside the Mini enclosure is a 7200RPM 2.5 inch drive.

The enclosure itself is solid and robust. I found the build quality to be excellent.

What’s in the Box

OWC Mercury Elite AL-Pro with OWC Slim ExpressCard to eSATA adapter

Inside the box you’ll find:

  • the Mini
  • a User Guide Owner’s manual
  • an eSATA cable
  • a Firewire 800 (1394B) cable
  • a USB 2.0 (A-B) cable
  • a software CD bundle

The documentation does an thorough job covering the step by step procedure (including screenshots) on formatting the drive for both Mac and Windows systems. (The Mini comes freshly formatted for the Mac by default.)

Observations and Notes

OWC Mercury Elite AL-Pro with OWC Slim ExpressCard to eSATA adapter

All the cables you’ll need (SATA, USB, Firewire) are included in the box. That’s a huge convenience.

The Mini is a bus-powered drive, when using either Firewire or USB interfaces. When using the eSATA interface, an external power adaptor is required. (The adaptor can be purchased from OWC for an additional $7.99.) Given that most folks will probably use this drive with Firewire or USB cables, I can understand the manufacturer’s omission of the external power adaptor. But given the rising popularity of eSATA interfaces, especially for power users (for whom this drive is primarily marketed towards), I think the adaptor should be included as part of the package.

In use, the drive is incredibly quiet. In fact, it’s so quiet that sometimes I forget the drive is even on. In Mac OSX, when the drive mounts, it shows up with a beautiful custom icon on the desktop. it’s a minor touch, but as a hard drive junkie with 10 drives on my desktop, the thought is definitely appreciated.

One point worth noting is that the Mini supports bootable operation. I was able to verify this by installing and booting Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) from the Mini using the unit’s FW800 interface. You can boot the drive from USB, Firewire 800 and eSATA, providing the eSATA device you’re connecting it to supports booting. This is also a great drive to use for cloning back-ups (for that, I use Shirt Pocket Software’s SuperDuper!).

The software bundle on the drive itself includes a great variety of qualityOS X freeware and shareware. On the CD, you’ll find ProSoft Engineering’s Data Backup (retail $59.00), which you can use to archive the contents of your hard drive. The CD also comes with Intech’s SpeedTools (retail $14.95), which I used to benchmark the drive. Other utilities on the disc are Carbon Copy Cloner and Novastor’s Novabackup.

Benchmarks

I’ve provided benchmarks for the drive in my previous reviews of the OWC Slim card and the MAXPower eSATA 6G PCIe 2.0 Controller Card showing the data transfer rate comparison between Firewire 800 vs eSATA, so I won’t repeat them here.

In my day-to-day usage of the drive, I used the Firewire 800 ports to shuttle data back and forth between home and work. Firewire 800 speeds were slower than eSATA, but much faster than USB2 and Firewire400 speeds.

Copying a 5.36GB file (the entire size of the UNcubed folder on my eSATA drive) took under 2 minutes, when using the Mini’s eSATA interface. By comparison, the same folder took over 7 minutes to copy via USB 2.0 using another drive (a Maxtor One Touch Mini).

Conclusions

The OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro drive is FAST. It’s rugged and very easy to transport. Price-wise, with the included software, the drive is a solid value. The Mini is a little more expensive compared to many standard full-height SATA external drives on the market, but the value of this drive comes from its build quality, its portability, and its iron-clad 3 year warranty.

The Good:

  • fast performance
  • small and rugged form-factor, perfect for travel
  • clean design aesthetics
  • bus powered for Firewire and USB interfaces
  • excellent bundled software
  • bootable

The Bad:

  • pricier than other full-height drives on the market
  • requires an external adaptor to use with eSATA

Overall rating:


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About the author

Krishna Sadasivam creates custom comics and illustrations for organizations, magazines and companies. A champion of comics advocacy, Krishna speaks, blogs, and writes articles on illustration and sequential arts techniques and the importance of the comics medium in both education and brand awareness. His clients have included Microsoft, Mashable, Other World Computing and EE Times. His work has been featured on many notable websites, including TechCrunch, Gizmodo and CNET. His portfolio can be found at krishnadraws.com.

These beautiful and intelligent people wrote

  • Jose GonzalezReply
    July 13, 2010 at 6:01 am

    Its a good price point for all the goodies you get. Excellent review, Krishna! Thorough as always. OWC’s got a great asset in you.

  • timelawdReply
    July 18, 2010 at 12:15 am

    Are OWC drives available in Europe?

    • krishnaReply
      July 18, 2010 at 9:40 am

      timelawd, I’m pretty sure they ship internationally.

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